Ruby Dome • Highpoint: Elko County
• Range Highpoint: Ruby Mountains

Date: August 13, 2006 • Elevation: 11,387 feet • Prominence: 4,793 feet • Distance: 14 miles • Time: 13 hours • Gain: 5,400 feet • Conditions: Bright blue skies • Teammates: Ben Knorr, then halfway up, Kevin and Sunshine

The Ruby Mountains as seen
from south of the city of Elko

Reflections in Griswold Lake

Griswold Lake from higher up

The gang at the 10,140-foot saddle:
Kevin, Sunshine and Ben

Our first full view of Ruby Dome

The final few (narrow, exposed) feet!

My 17th Nevada County Highpoint.
Notice the green shirt?

Ben and I at the cairn!

Looking east at Mt. Silliman

Looking north. Hennen Canyon
is to the left, Seitz Canyon to
the right, Elko on the horizon

On the descent.
Goodbye, Ruby!

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Ruby Dome is a magnificent mountaintop, topping the Ruby Mountains of northeast Nevada, overlooking the city of Elko. The summit is a pyramid of rock, with a noticeable point to the top, even visible from down below. For me, this would be a momentous occasion should I be successful in summitting the peak: this was my last county highpoint in Nevada yet to be climbed.

I climbed my first peak in Nevada in 1995, climbing Boundary Peak, the state highpoint. In 1999, I climbed Charleston Peak, which started me on the project to climb all 17 county highpoints in the state. I had all but three finished by 2002, but then did nothing for three years. In 2005, I climbed two of the remaining three, leaving Ruby Dome for last.

Although not planned this way (I never plan anything), finishing the list on Ruby Dome would be a real treat. The Ruby Mountains are a beautiful range with towering rocky summits, forested slopes with glacial lakes, and deep meandering canyons. The range is wetter and greener, a much different "flavor" than most Nevada peaks. Not surprisingly, the Ruby Mountains attract people from all over, although very few bother to climb its highest summit.

I flew into Salt Lake City and picked up my rental SUV. I was able to talk the car rental guy into a reduced rate, figuring I'd be sleeping in it at least two of the nights. After stocking up on supplies in Salt Lake, I motored west for 230 miles across the Great Salt Desert and into Elko. The day was still young. I killed time at an interesting used book dealer, then drove into the range looking for a place to car-camp for the night.

I drove up into Lamoille Canyon and found an open spot along the road that looked nice. I pulled in and sat in the vehicle, reading my books and enjoying the cool weather and gorgeous views. Next thing I know, it's 3:30 a.m. I had fallen fast asleep in the back seat of the vehicle, no blankets or sleeping bags or anything. I must have been really tired. I got up and suited up, got my head right for the long day, then nearing dawn, drove back down to a gate in the "town" of Spring Valley, the trailhead of the hike.

I was joined for the hike by Ben Knorr, a Salt Lake-based climber who agreed to join me for this hefty climb. He rolled in near dawn and we were moving as soon as possible, well aware we had a huge day ahead of us. From our starting point, we were looking at over a vertical mile of hiking. We followed the road up a mile to a higher parking area. Residents of the Spring Valley development can rent a key to open the gate and drive higher. Apparently, a lot of people drive to this upper trailhead for short day hikes.

At this upper trailhead, we saw a sign saying "Griswold Lake 3 miles, Ruby Dome 4 miles". This was being way too generous. Perhaps these figures are true for straight line distances. We knew better. Ruby Dome's summit was still about 6 miles of hiking above us.

We walked across a bridge to a T-junction, then turned right and walked up Hennen Canyon for three miles, and 2,800 feet of elevation gain, to Griswold Lake. The hiking was easy but steep. The trail would cross through stands of trees, then open meadows, then rocky sections, one after another. A flowing creek was always nearby. At about 8,000 feet elevation, we encountered the first significant rock band. These were easy to scramble up and over. As we inched higher, the trees lessened to nothing.

We arrived to Griswold Lake at 9 a.m., having hiked for three and a half hours, gaining 3,300 feet. Griswold Lake is a round glacial lake, surrounded by a few scraggly trees. It is a popular dedstination and camping location. On this day, a scout troop was getting its tents packed for the trek down. Ben and I took a break alongside the lake, talking briefly with the scout leaders. We had put in a good day's effort already, but remembered we still had another 2,100 vertical feet to gain. Another couple emerged from the incoming trail and hiked up the talus slope above us.

After about 45 minutes at Griswold Lake, Ben and I got moving again. We took a direct route up the steep talus blocks east of the lake. Some of these blocks were loose, a couple making a disconcerting hollow "thud" as we stepped on them. We soon caught up to the couple ahead of us. They were a couple of Elko locals, Kevin and Sunshine, climbing "their" peak for the first time ever. They seemed cool, and we agreed to team up for the remaining climb.

We were above the steep talus section, now on flatter terrain and achieving a saddle at 10,140 feet elevation. We could see Ruby Dome again, now much closer, yet still way up there in the sky. We were above treeline by now. All we had up this high were grasses. Snowfields of various sizes still clung to life this late in the summer. We could hear flowing water, streams being fed by these snowfields.

We hiked toward the base of Peak 10,428, a noticeable tooth-like promontory north of Ruby Dome (and what was visible most of the hike up), and walked into a cleft between it and a rocky open area. The trail then dropped gently into a cirque below the headwall of Seitz Canyon, which parallels Hennen Canyon. Ruby Domeís massive north face, nearly a thousand feet of sheer vertical wall, gave way to fields of talus and lingering snowbanks. Below these, the ground was a mix of grassy areas and wildflowers. We walked to a stream here and took a break. We were slighlt northeast of the summit.

A route mentioned by others was to scamper up steep chutes about here to gain the main northwest ridge of Ruby Dome's summit. We looked around but didn't see anything that looked promising. Instead, we cut across the north face of the summit and onto a big snowfield. Without really talking about it, we seemed to all agree that we'd take our chances with the ridge southeast of the summit, which looked friendlier from a distance.

We were aiming for the saddle east of the summit. By now, we were above the grass and wildflowers, now on the talus itself. Down low, the gradient was gentle and we moved reasonably fast. Ben was up ahead and actually angling more up than across, while Kevin and Sunshine were below and aiming for the saddle. Me, I was midway and going wherever it looked easiest. I could see what Ben was thinking: it may not be necessary to get to the actual saddle. Instead, it seemed plausible to reach the ridge above the saddle, which would save time.

The talus on upper slopes was steep and sometimes loose. We had to take each step carefully and test each rock to be sure it wouldnít tip, groan or slide under our weight. We convened again at a point about 100 feet above the saddle, elevation 11,100 feet. After another well-earned rest, we werenít entirely sure what to do next other than to go up and hope for the best. We hiked a few more feet to attain the ridge itself, now able to look down the massive cliffs on its south side.

Above us was a ridge point, a narrow clump of talus blocks heaped on one another, pointing into the sky like a finger. The summit was invisible from here. I have to admit (and I think the others would agree) that even getting to this point took some courage, and not a guarantee that there would be safe passage afterwards. So close to the summit, we were a little concerned that we had run up a potential dead end. There was only one way to find out.

We strung out in our usual pattern: Ben first, me second and Kevin and Sunshine not far behind. The final 60 vertical feet to this point was manageable, but class-3 scrambling all the way up with portions of moderate exposure. But, fortunately, the rocks here were solid and full of handholds, and the climbing went well, albeit slowly. Soon, Ben was near the top of this point. The the rest of us stopped in our tracks for a report: our entire climb had come down to what Ben could see from this point. Shortly he came back with good news: he could see the summit close by and that the ridge was narrow, but safe. I surmounted this ridge point a few moments later, followed by Kevin and Sunshine.

There was the top, so close, a hundred vertical feet higher across a narrow catwalk with thousand-foot drops on both sides. We took each step with the greatest of care, believe me. About halfway up, the ridge narrowed too much (in our opinion) so we dropped onto a steep but safe rock slope below and traverse this section, 30 horizontal feet down and 15 feet across to get past this portion. At this point, Kevin and Sunshine got into the lead and it was Sunshine who had the honor of being the first to tag the 4-foot tall cairn on the summit, letting out a celebratory yay. It seemed right that the local Elkoans were the first to the top.

Within moments, the four of us were on the summit. For all of us, this was a wonderful end to a grueling day of climbing, and for me, a thrill to complete all seventeen Nevada county highpoints. We spent 20 minutes on the summit, signing the log and taking photos. The deserts below, and the city of Elko, were over a mile beneath us. A nearby peak just feet lower in elevation appeared to have much more technical ridges. We were fortunate that despite its appearances, Ruby Dome's upper slopes are nothing worse than Class 3 scrambles and low-level climbing. Now I wanted down, the faster the better.

We debated whether to walk down the gentle west ridge and follow the ledges down, or to descend the way we came up. We chose the latter, figuring at least we knew what to expect. I took the lead and we strung out again, each managing the very steep downclimb with care, slowly working our way down onto the fields of talus, opting to go lower than before then cut across. This worked well, although we had to zig-zag around the snowbanks and avoid cliffs that were invisible until we actually were feet from their edges.

In less than an hour, we were back to the level snowfield below Ruby Dome, where we took an extended food and water break and where we could actually sit and relax, knowing that the nasty stuff was now behind us. We spent 40 minutes here, laying down and enjoying the mid-day sun and the gorgeous profile of Ruby Domeís unique summit ridge.

The hike to the 10,140-foot saddle was easy, and the downclimb to Griswold Lake went well, scooting and slithering down rock faces and clefts, following a scant trail beaten in by previous hikers. In another hour, we were at Griswold Lake, taking another break. I was getting dehydrated, and it seemed no matter how much I drank, I was thirsty again. It was uncomfortable, but I still had 2 liters of water, and with a flowing creek paralleling our route all the way down, water would always be at hand, so I didnít worry too much. The thought of a cold Gatorade and later on, a beer, kept me motivated. Even a can of Keystone sounded good at this point.

From Griswold Lake, the hike back to the trailhead took two hours, with Ben and I hiking as a group and Kevin and Sunshine about five minutes behind us. The sun was behind the ridges, giving us welcome shade. Ben and I staggered back to the trailhead, where we both sat on the new footbridge over the creek. I laid down and snoozed, but soon Kevin and Sunshine were here, and they kindly gave us a ride down to our cars (they had a key and had parked at the higher trailhead).

Back at the gate and our cars, we said our goodbyes to Kevin and Sunshine, then Ben and I parted ways, a good end to a very successful afternoon. For us, it had been a thirteen-hour summit day, including all of our many breaks. Roughly, it was about 7.5 hours to the top and 4.5 down. I donít care if it took me twenty hours, I was thrilled to have summitted Ruby Dome, and to have been accompanied by three great teammates! Thanks to Ben, Kevin and Sunshine.

I drove into Elko, stopping at the first Stop-&-Rob I could find, and sucked down a green Gatorade. Wow that was good. I stayed at a hotel at the main casino in Elko and treated myself to a prime rib sandwich and 12 hours of sleep. The next day, I drove back to Utah with plans for more peaks, but rain and nasty roads shooed me off of one peak, although I saw a moose. I was able to visit the rocky highpoint of Wasatch County a couple days later as consolation before flying home to start another year of teaching.

(c) 2006, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.